By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
by David Rees
You may be the type: You’re alternately glum and sad and anxious. You scoff at the flag-decorated cars (“America is my favorite brand of nation-state!”); you sneer at the e-mailed prayer-for-peace rally invites; you’ve become obsessed with WTC cough, the Pakistani education system and locating the most dissident, depressive opinion piece from The Guardian and forwarding it to all your online friends. You’ve been drinking more, you haven’t laughed with real abandon in weeks and nihilism is looking like an attractive personal philosophy. And then, sometime following the premiere of Operation: Enduring Freedom, a generous soul passed along the address for “Get Your War On,” the deeply dark-humored online comic strip. And for those few minutes you perused this piece of ash-black clip-art social commentary, you actually felt better.
“Oh yeah! Operation: Enduring Freedom is in the house!” an office worker announces on the phone to a fellow cubicle denizen. The conversations continue across a series of strips, all rendered in the extremely banal representational style of a corporate employee’s handbook.
The strips’ uniquely despairing tone — an angry, post-Dilbert Power-Point presentation as written by a depressed David Mamet on a rap-music kick — struck an instant chord. Purely through word-of-e-mail, the site’s popularity soared, receiving more than five million hits in the two weeks since the strips were first posted on the net. “Get Your War On”’s creator is a 29-year-old New Yorker named David Rees, whose previous cartooning efforts were two series of strips lifting the lyrical bravado of hip-hop freestyle contests into ridiculous contexts — karate fighting amateurs and office filing clerks. But three weeks ago, he decided to tackle a more serious topic.
“I’ve been feeling a real disappointment with how pop culture was handling this situation, especially humorists,” Rees says, speaking by phone from the Brooklyn apartment he shares with his girlfriend. “I know it’s sacrilege to talk bad about The Onion when you’re in your 20s, and they did do some good stuff in the aftermath of September 11 — some of it was funny and kind of moving — but I felt like they still weren’t getting at how bad everything really was. The same with a lot of the ‘funny’ Web sites I was going to. So many people had been rushing to say, ‘Well, that’ll show these fucking 20-somethings! Irony is dead! Now we’re gonna get serious.’ I thought people were really giving up on the power of pop culture to express anguish.
“So I was up late one night updating my site on my girlfriend’s iMac, and I just decided to try to make some comics about the current situation. I wasn’t trying to make something that would support a political agenda. I think one of the frustrating things for a lot of people in this situation is you just don’t even know what to hope for. It’s not like I had this un-ambiguous thing of ‘Oh my god, we must stop bombing and turn it over to the World Court.’ So these were more just personal comics about how I’d been feeling about the whole situation. And I was drinking heavily when I made them, frankly. I’ve gone through a lot of Jim Beam in the evenings, because I’ve been working whole days in a midtown Manhattan office, listening to sirens and re-booting cnn.com, which is like the worst thing you can do to yourself psychologically.”
Rees has mixed feelings about the strips’ popularity and the contract offers he’s been getting from alternative newspapers across the country.
“When the increased traffic first started, I was shocked,” he says. “What had started off for me as a very personal project emailed to 10 friends just kinda skyrocketed. But then I started to get a lot of really supportive e-mails, with a fair amount of people saying that they feel like it’s the first time they’ve seen a cartoon that gets at this cold, despairing confusion they’re feeling. So that made me very happy. But on the other hand I was like, ‘Well, great — I can still be dead in a week.’ And ‘Well, what am I going to do now? Wait for the next atrocity so I can make a comic about it?’
“I don’t want to get on some kind of schedule, where something happens and an editor’s like, ‘Okay, we need a strip about it. Cuz it’s funniest when you make it when you just feel compelled to make it. I feel like this strip will be valuable only if it expresses how bad I’m feeling.”
Conventional Wisdom: Homeland Insecurity
“With this mask and suit you would be completely protected against any chemical or nuclear attack,” says Loren Shertzer as she hikes a pair of clear plastic pants up past her knees and over her skirt. Shertzer, general manager of the Counter Spy Shop of Mayfair, London, usually peddles her wares at the chain’s Beverly Hills store. But at this moment she is encasing herself in plastic at the 25th Annual Home Remodeling and Decorating Show in the middle of the L.A. Convention Center.